Does your foot pain come with a lower back pain that spreads down to your leg before it reaches your foot? If this is the case, then sciatica is most likely the cause. Muscle weakness, numbness, and pins and needles in your leg or foot are also signs of sciatica.
Sciatica is a common type of nerve pain that affects the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the human body. It starts in your lower back, goes to each side of your buttocks down to each leg, and ends at the heel of each foot.
- Lower back pain
- Hip pain
- Buttocks pain
- Leg pain
- Tingling or burning feeling in the leg
- Numbness or weakness of the leg or foot
- Foot pain
- Difficulty in moving the leg or foot
- Continuous pain on one side of the posterior
- A busting pain that makes standing up difficult
Sciatica normally affects just one buttock all the way down to the leg and foot and sometimes up to the toes. However, there are instances where both legs are affected. This depends on where the affected nerve is.
Depending on the cause, sciatica can occur slowly or suddenly. Spinal arthritis develops gradually over time while a herniated disc causes abrupt pain. Pain can be severe in some cases and appear infrequently in some but in most cases, the cause of the pain is resolved with non-operative treatments in just a few weeks. In severe cases though, where the patient suffers from serious leg weakness, bladder, or bowel changes, surgery might be advised.
If you are experiencing any of the following, seek immediate medical attention:
- Severe disabling pain
- Redness or swelling in your back
- Burning feeling when you pee
- Blood in your pee
- Loss of bladder control
- Loss of bowel control
Sciatica results from a herniated disk in your lower spine. Disks are round connective tissues that separate the vertebrae. Disks can get worn out due to overuse or injury when this happens the disk becomes weak and tears easily, letting the soft inner portion slip out of the hard outer portion. A slipped disk can put pressure on the nerves surrounding it and if the nerve happens to be a sciatic nerve then sciatica happens.
Sciatica can also be caused by the following:
- Back muscle spasm
- Buttock muscle spasm
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Degenerative disk disease
Other factors that can cause you to have sciatica:
- Age - Sciatica happens mostly to people aged 30 to 50 years old
- Weight - Having more weight can put extra pressure on your spine
- Diabetes - This disease can damage the nerves
- Work - People whose work requires them to lift heavy things or sit for long periods of time are prone to sciatica.
- Smoking - The nicotine found in tobacco can weaken bones, impair spinal tissue, and hasten wear and tear of vertebral discs
- No regular exercise
- Sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress
- Back injury
- Accidental fall
- Poor posture
As mentioned earlier, sciatica pain can be resolved using simple non-operative treatments you can do at home such as:
- Applying cold and/or hot packs on the affected area
- Take over-the-counter medicines to lessen the inflammation and pain
- Perform stretches to relieve back pain
- Use the Chi Miracle Machine - a gentle passive exerciser that stimulates the spinal column and its vertebrae to help manage your back pain
If your body doesn’t respond to these treatments and your condition doesn’t improve or the pain is getting worse, your doctor might recommend you the following:
- Prescription medicines like muscle relaxants or a stronger pain-relieving medicine
- Physical therapy to help you perform stretches and exercises that would make your back muscles, abdomen, and legs stronger
- A spinal injection that can give you pain relief up to 3 months
- Other therapies like acupuncture, yoga, and massage
When is surgery needed?
If all else fails and the pain is just worsening, you are experiencing extreme muscle weakness, and you have lost control over your bowel or bladder then surgery is the last option.
Back injury, accidental fall, pregnancy, and degenerative disk disease are causes of sciatica that cannot be prevented. Even though it’s impossible to prevent all factors that can cause sciatica, you can take certain measures to strengthen your back and lessen the risk of having sciatica.
Have a good posture - Having a good posture ensures that the muscle tension is just right and that your whole body is symmetrically aligned. Pressure on your lower back is alleviated with proper posture while sitting, standing, and sleeping.
Keep a healthy weight - Poor diet and being overweight are connected to pain and inflammation in the body. You can lose weight through regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep. Being in your ideal body weight will reduce the strain in your spine.
Regular stretches - Stretching regularly can help make your joints flexible and your muscles strong.
Low-impact exercises - Choose activities that will not put too much strain on your back like walking, yoga, swimming, and dancing.
Fall-proof yourself and your surroundings - Wear skid-proof shoes. Remove clutter from the floor, walkways, and stairs. Avoid walking in dark areas where you can’t see where you’re going. Install rails and grab bars in places you need them. Ensure that every area you frequent is well-lighted.
Avoid/Stop smoking - The blood supply to the bone is reduced when you smoke due to nicotine. When this happens, the spine and intervertebral disks get weak and stressed causing you to have back problems.
Surgery is not needed in most cases of sciatica. Self-management and other non-operative treatments are often enough to fix the problem. If pain is not relieved after some time of self-care treatment, it’s getting worse or the pain has become unbearable, please seek medical attention immediately.